teaching + technology
support for uva english department instructors and faculty
Clickers, otherwise known as student reponse systems, have been gaining popularity in large science classes. Clickers are individual remote controls with which students respond to questions in real time. Different vendors of the technology offer a few different options, but that's the basic idea. For some background, check out this interview with a professor at University of Louisville, "Using Classroom Clickers To Engage Every Student." Clickers may also present some interesting opportunities for the humanities classroom, in which they have yet to be really tested. Use of clickers falls within three areas. There are a variety of different pedagogical applications with each.
- Evaluation: clickers can be used for quizzes and tests, either with all the questions at once or distributed over the course of the semester. For example, in one science course, each class includes 2-3 clickers questions. Over the course of the semester, these combined 20-30 questions are factored into students' grades. These grades be weighted low enough to discourage cheating and high enough to keep students interested.
- Qualitative feedback: this is the most evidently "interactive" of its applications. Clickers can start "discussions" within the classroom by instantaneously polling students' opinions of certain concepts, textual features, varying interpretations, etc. Or they could be used to measure levels of student understanding for the materials they've read or just heard about. Or students could click in their opinions, be asked to turn to their neighbor and convince them of their opinion, and polled again. Or students could respond to the same question at the beginning and at the end of class to ascertain changes in their opinion or understanding. Options abound.
- Demographic analysis: the simplest form would be to use the remote to take attendance. More interestingly, clicker questions can be correlated, sorted, and analyzed for particular demographic insights. For instance, by asking students about their year at UVa, degree of confidence in choosing an English major, age, gender, discussion section, whatever, instructors gain the ability to examine -- privately of course -- any correspondences to their performance on evaluative questions, either in part or whole. Such data could be used retroactively to ascertain how the course serves different student populations, or to begin tracking different student populations over several courses that use correlated clickers questions.
This is the range of options; instructors can use clickers for whatever purposes or goals they like. Within a few years, instructors probably won't even have to use clickers hardware which will be superseded by technologies that allow the same functionality over any wireless device, such a cell phone or PDA.
The logistics: UVA currently has relations to three different vendors; each vendor offers a slightly different system (described below). Students buy the clickers devices from the bookstore either unbundled or bundled with a textbook at a discount. The sales representatives from the clickers vendors would probably do the work to talk to a textbook publisher like Norton about bundling. The bookstore also buys back clickers, and we think students can buy them used. Each system requires one central receiver which UVA either already has or the clicker vendor would most likely provide, considering the size of the order. Each system uses different software with which to load questions and collect data.
- iClickers -- the entry-level option at $27 each unbundled. Devices have only five response options, buttons A-E. System publishes the collected data through its own web site.
- Turning Technologies -- a more flexible option for students and professors but more expensive at $50 per device unbundled. Each device offers response buttons for 0-9 and A-E. Questions and response data can easily be loaded into PowerPoint slides.
- eInstruction -- everything that Turning Technologies has plus a small LCD screen. More expensive at $60-$70. Does not seem sufficiently more useful.
The TRC can offer guidance and technical support with clickers and, should you wish to try them out, has a demo set of Turning Technologies clickers for up to 100 students for two weeks. Additionally, Michael Palmer at the TRC said he would be glad to meet with interested instructors to discuss clickers further. Certainly there are issues and questions here, and anyone seriously considering using them in the classroom would benefit from a conversation or two in advance with Michael Palmer. Should anyone wish to take it on, the TTSP would also be happy to help.